Monday, February 25, 2013

What I Hate about Writing - (Rant Alert)

In my opinion, there's not much to dislike about writing. It's something I've always done, starting with diaries from the age of 6, swiftly followed by letters to Blue Peter*, and I always have a notepad by my bedside for ideas. (Rule #1 - that brilliant blog/column/book idea you know you'll still be able to remember in the morning because it's so fantastic? You won't.)

What I really hate however (yes, I'll go so far as to use that word) are readers who can't or won't take a piece in the spirit in which it was written, and readers who point out the one, singular exception to the topic at hand.

As someone who writes a lot about Americans and Brits, of course I generalize. That's because a) I don't know every single person in either country, and b) there are certain generalizations to be made. I take great pains to insert the words "Generally speaking", "Usually" and "often" in order to leave the door open for the one in a million exception. And still.....

Either these readers are trying to speed read and missing most of the text, or they are just bound and determined to find fault (and therefore have far too much time on their hands). In my book Rules, Britannia (see left panel) in writing about the UK, I said "Apart from in London..." in almost every chapter, before making a fairly general comment. Despite declaring that this wasn't a tourist book, nor was it a guide to London, I still had American commenters saying that they'd lived in London for X years and had never seen/heard that of which I spoke. Sigh. I even had one American pretty much telling me that I must have made up Morris Dancers because he'd never come across them. In London? Really? You don't say.

In a recent column I wrote for BBC America's Mind the Gap, about tea in the USA, (65 comments - and all fascinating) I was making the point that sometimes I just want a decent cup of plain old tea and not the fancy stuff that is really only "hot juice". I gave the Starbucks tea menu as an example, and made the fatal error of naming their Jasmine Orange tea (which, incidentally, I got straight from the web site, but no matter). The response from one commenter?

"And no, it's not Jasmine Orange tea you're seeing at Starbucks, It's Orange Blossom green tea which is fantastic with a bit of lemon when you feel a cold coming on. There's a big difference between Jasmine tea and Green tea lover will tell you."

See what I mean? Completely missed the point of my piece which was, - it doesn't really matter what it's called, it's just not real tea as far as I'm concerned. Good job I have developed the skin of a rhino - I just couldn't be bothered to put that comment right or, for that matter, correct the bad grammar. Really people, if you're going to have a go in a comment box, take the trouble to re-read it before hitting "publish".

In general, (she says, generalizing), my readers are a nice bunch and not given to pettiness and sniping. I just felt like having a bit of a rant.

Hillary gets it!

*Blue Peter - Wiki does a good job of explaining this well-loved British Children's TV show. Let's just say if you got a letter read out, it was a BIG deal. And don't even get me salivating at the thought of being awarded a Blue Peter badge. 


  1. An excellent response. As a teacher, I'm sure that the people who nitpick about silliness are also the ones who failed to learn to 'read for the main idea' when they were in school.

  2. How dare you denigrate the great choice of hot beverages at Starbucks? You expats are SOOOO narrow-minded, and stuck in your ways. You chose to come to this country. You should try and fit in, and not just snipe away at our culture, which - FYI - is the best in the world. If you don't want to live in the oldest democracy, and the most prosperous nation in the world, then head on back to your tiny monarchy, where you can sit and sip your perfect tea to your heart's content.

  3. That comment was me. Just having a laugh.

  4. And whoever heard of putting milk in tea? Eeeurgh!

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  6. Well said Toni. It is certainly frustrating when you spend time putting together well thought out and expressed blog posts to have readers not read your article properly. I think you were right to have a rant.

  7. Dear Anonymous (not you, Iota -- the one that will [or should be] deleted by the blog administrator very soon):

    By your closing comment, "... you can get the individual to call up you but to create Disembarrass Release dating services you can bump on the internet with no acknowledgment Poster needed" it is obvious you not only missed the point of this post, but have not fully understood the Internet user agreement, section 7 paragraph 4 subsection 6a which PLAINLY states you DO need and acknowledgement poster if you are gong to bump someone on the Internet.

    And "acknowledgement" has three e's in it.

  8. Iota - that'a funny.

    Everyone - I deleted the Anon comment to which Mike refers. Just in case you thought he'd finally lost it!

  9. *shaking my head and tutting* I understand this frustration completely. This is probably why I don't push myself enough as a writer and exactly why I admire you for doing so--you are brave enough to offer opinions and insights (never hurtful) AND thick skinned enough to cope with the idiots who haven't learned how to read properly yet.

    They're annoying members of the audience, but they only show themselves up to the more intelligent readers who did get your article.

  10. It is part of the territory, we all discover sooner or later.

    I think there are many factors, but a couple are maybe that:

    1. America is generally a less self-critical place than the UK. It is much more common to hear self-praise. People feel the need the use the phrase: "I love this country, but..." if they are expressing a view that might be deemed less than praise, I've noticed. Much of it comes from the general sense of American upbeatness and optimism, I know, but sometimes I wonder if there is a tinge of insecurity that comes with being such a young country?

    2. American individualism means that many resent any form of generalization. Yes, the US is incredibly varied and the states are like little countries of their own, but there are patterns of behaviour that are wide enough to fit the concept of national traits, in my opinion. I am an Englishman who doesn't care for tea, cricket, or the royal family, but I still would accept these as being part of English culture. (If generalization really is impossible, then someone should tell the president, who is always talking about the "American character"). :-)

    PS You've mentioned the Morris Dancing comment before, Toni, that one must've really got under your skin! The small town of Otley where I used to live have 5 groups of Morris Dancers, so I can certainly confirm their existence, if you ever need a witness statement. :-)

  11. Paul - great comment, thanks. Yes, the Morris Dancer one always comes to mind, I think perhaps because the person in question (a prominent academic and therefore probably a bit self-important) was just so adamant that they couldn't exist because he hadn't seen them. I was more gob-smacked than upset by the comment, and hope he remembered it when that great movie came out a few years later.

  12. There's a great movie about morris dancers?

  13. A Life with Bells. It's hilarious and poignant at the same time.

  14. Going off at a slight tangent, but still related, my main problem of writing is that if you do it for an income, like me, you have to do all lots of dry, boring stuff, and concern yourself with advertising and selling stuff. The more fun the writing is, the less commercially viable it is, often! (I am talking other than my expat blog, which I essentially do just for fun!)

  15. Funny, that.
    I work with people who, if the point can possibly be missed, will miss it by a mile. I give out written notes for jobs to be done, and find the person responsible for the doing may have spent half the day doing something peripheral, and been 'too busy' to get around to the main task.
    Yes, Jamie, this means you, not that you'd ever read this, because, let's face it, you avoid reading...
    Even the thought of an audiobook scares you. Or BBC Radio 4, which you dismiss as 'Boring', whilst tuning in to a radio station, that, in between adverts and jingles plays music that sounds just like my washing-machine on a bad day.

    Like Paul, I can confirm that Otley is infested by Morris dancers. On a bucolic summer's evening, outside the Hunters Inn, with lowing of cows, and distant tractor noises, they're almost acceptable.

    I have also been frustrated when U.S. establishments offer 'English Tea' but have no idea how to make tea. Gag. A Liptons teabag in warm water.
    I wonder why the world doesn't know that fewer than seven people in all of Britain drink Liptons tea?

  16. I love all the discussions about the differences and likenesses among cultures (even within a country). Highly entertaining when presented as well as you do, Toni.

    My tuppence-worth:

    "Fruit tea." My daughter and I have an agreement to call them "tisanes" as the French (and Hercule Poirot) do. "Tea" is tea. Period.

    Morris dancers. My oldest friend was part of Morris dance groups in two US cities. The American twist allows women in the groups. One of her groups toured England, hosted by local Morris dance groups there.

    Also, in a side note, I've taken note that NO British TV programme which includes ANY kind of a local fĂȘte EVER omits Morris dancers. I watch for them and am never disappointed! LOL

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  18. Ah, Blue Peter...I'm old enough to remember Lesley Judd, John Noakes and the other guy...with the dog. Amazing what they could together with an egg carton and double-sided sticky tape. Parents, leave the room!

    ps. Make mine Earl Grey, hot.

  19. Lisa - obviously a youngster then because I was weaned on Valerie Singleton with John Noakes and Peter what's-his-face. Valerie was on before Lesley Judd.
    And don't forget the sticky-back plastic.

  20. I'm behind you all the way! I'm too tight to buy tea in Starbucks anyway. I do occasionally buy a Chai spicey thingy but it is really sweet just liquid candy in a cup if that's what you're after. Usually if i'm brewing at home I have to put 2 british blend teabags in a cup and let them steep until kingdom come....I'm behind you all the way! Let's drink tea the way nature intended: dark brown and thick enough to stand a spoon up in

  21. Thanks for all your comments everyone. This has been a fun chat.

  22. 65 comments over tea! (was it about tea, I was speed reading...)You are the master of the blog post and obviously tea sparks a heck of a lot of ire and heat! I actually got some attitude from a person serving tea at a ski field here once when she suggested milk in herbal tea. I was horrified (actually maybe I'm not the good guy in this) and she did a yogic "You're so hung up" thing with me

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  24. Since my blog is about comfort food (mostly English and Southern US) and occasionally about tea, perhaps I draw a kinder and gentler crowd - I rarely get huffy comments. I've been reading your blog for quite a long time, and I don't understand why it would draw snarky remarks from anyone! Keep up the good work.

    PS I've read that drinking tea out of styrofoam cups is a health hazard - something about something in tea drawing something toxic out of the styrofoam - besides being aesthetically abominable!

  25. Jean - the commenters here are lovely, but I also write for the BBC America web site and am a HuffPost SuperUser, which is where I usually draw the most snark. Sigh...

  26. Peter Purves, that's the other Blue Peter presenter. I don't think I ever realised how inappropriate his name was at the time.

    What a great collection of comments!


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